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Montana bill to deny care for transgender minors passes

by AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press
| March 29, 2023 3:00 PM

HELENA (AP) — A Montana bill to deny gender-affirming medical care to young transgender residents passed a final vote in the state Senate on Wednesday, which sends the measure to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte for his consideration.

Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Montana have said they will take legal action if the bill becomes law.

Gov. Gianforte "will carefully consider bills in their final form as they arrive to his desk," spokesperson Kaitlin Price said when asked if Gianforte had decided how he would act on the bill.

At least nine states have enacted similar bans, with those in Alabama and Arkansas blocked by the courts. Other states have considered or are considering such bans.

"Montana lawmakers seem hellbent on joining the growing roster of states determined to jeopardize the health and lives of transgender youth, in direct opposition to the overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence supporting this care as appropriate and necessary," Lambda Legal and the ACLU organizations said in a statement last week.

The Senate voted 32-17 on party lines Wednesday to approve amendments made in the House — the body's final action on the bill that seeks to ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery to treat minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The diagnosis requires an insistent, persistent and consistent declaration by someone that they are different from their sex assigned at birth.

The treatments — including puberty blockers and breast reduction surgery — would still be allowed for young cisgender people.

"I reflect a lot on the way that parents of kids who are not trans have the ability to access exactly this healthcare for their kids," Democratic Rep. SJ Howell said last week before the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a party-line vote. If people think the treatment is abuse, the state's health department has an agency to investigate child abuse, they said.

"It's not protecting kids, and I think that it is discriminatory to its core," said Howell, who is transgender and nonbinary.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. John Fuller and other supporters have said the law is needed to protect children from any pressure to receive "harmful, experimental puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones" or to "undergo irreversible, life-altering procedures," before they become adults.

Families, transgender minors and physicians — during hourslong and sometimes emotional committee hearings — said the bill would ban evidence-based care that can save lives for those who have anxiety and depression because their biological sex does not match their gender identity.

The bill also prohibits Montana's Medicaid program from paying for the medication or surgical procedures for transgender minors.

Montana's Medicaid program began covering medication treatment for gender dysphoria for minors in 2015, the state health department said in January, and had spent nearly $1.4 million — an average of $173,000 a year.

Under the bill, health care providers who prescribe puberty blockers, hormones or surgery to transgender minors would have engaged in unprofessional conduct and be subject to discipline including a mandatory one-year suspension of their medical license.

If the bill becomes law, it would take effect Oct. 1, ending current treatment for transgender minors.

The House amended a section of the bill that would have given transgender people who later regretted their treatment up to a 25-year window to sue their physicians for damages. That timeframe was reduced to four years. Physicians would not be allowed to carry liability insurance coverage to pay for such damages under the bill.